Back-to-School Crap

This one had been brewing since July. Busy Summer schedules pushed it into August, when I suggested the last Sunday, August 26th, for the day. Plenty of time! All and sundry concurred. Then, on the blessed day came the apologies, the excuses. Once more, it was down to the Four Horsemen: myself, host Dave, Alan, and Rick.

That’s okay. We know who are the hardcore, the faithful. And who are the cowardly, weak, craven, chicken-hearted, gutless, lily-livered, spineless, yellow-bellied, pusillanimous weak-kneed pigeon-hearted wusses.

Anyway.

Dave started things off with some horrific thing he had found on the Internet, Strange Beings. Let me see if I can adequately describe Strange Beings, though it really requires the literary talent of a Lovecraft. Firstly, you should know that Strange Beings  is a Power Point presentation, created before Microsoft ever invented the Great Satan of meeting software. This means that basically it sounds like somebody put a tape recorder in front of their crazy uncle, asked him Tell us about the Little People again, Unca Joe, and then took the resulting droning dissertation and used it as the soundtrack while they pointed a camcorder at books of art and scrapbook clippings. There is no motion in this thing. None. Except where the aging tape is damaged and loses the signal for a moment.

It is also two hours, three minutes, and twenty-three seconds long. That is the exact length of a VHS tape, and our narrator uses every goddamned second of it. In fact, the presentation cuts off in mid-sentence, just as he is about to deliver to us some Great Secret. “We all live in a potential para-” Para what? Paradise? Paramecium? Paratrooper? Paranormal Activity, Part Three?

The entire thing is available on YouTube. In fact, screw you, I don’t trust you, here it is right now:

Be aware: I was nice. I actually tracked down the segment where he starts talking about The Carrot People, which makes the entire endurance test almost worth it. At about the 4:55 mark.

This is apparently the work of Al Fry, about which you can find very little on the Internet, and by you, I mean me. There are other videotapes by him floating around, with titles like Triple Your Intelligence & Memory, How to Find & Keep A Soul Mate, and of course, The Hidden World History, helpfully subtitled on YouTube as “Conspiracy NWO”, which might give you an idea as to the mindset we are dealing with here. It was likely sold through ads in the back of Fate magazine and UFO Monthly. Maybe even Fortean Times. If it ever wound up at your local video store – and mine, for years, bought everything – it was on the 99 cents a night rack.

Dave’s wife, Annie, was dealing with this magnificently, but then, she was off in another room, enjoying Mr. Fry’s soothing tones. She opined that “He sounds like he’s paging through the Golden Book Encyclopedia of Magic and paraphrasing everything he sees.” Me, at about the hour mark, I was finding excuses to not be in the same room with Strange Beings. I was reduced to doing my imitation of Yaphet Kotto in Alien: “I’m asking you to pull the plug.”

Two hours, three minutes, and twenty-three seconds.

Personally, I think Dave had been saving this up ever since I mortally wounded him with Harvey Sid Fisher’s Astrology Songs. It didn’t help that I had said “Sure, why not” to Strange Beings after a glance at a brief description. Finally, with thirty minutes left, Dave took a hint from the torches and pitchforks and put on Jaws: The Revenge.

If you want to make Jaws: The Revenge look like fucking Star Wars, watch it after 90 minutes of Strange Beings.

You may recall that Dave was going to spring this on us several Crapfests ago, only to find that Netflix had unceremoniously dumped it from their streaming service. Rick appreciated this, because it gave him something to whinge about for ages. I finally took it upon myself to solve this situation, because, you know, a used DVD cost like five bucks on Amazon. So. Mea culpa.

I have spent my life making believe that there was only one Jaws movie. One Indiana Jones movie, a couple of Alien movies, and, on a good day, up to three Star Wars movies. So I really have no idea what sort of backstory I am dealing with here, except that apparently Jaws 3-D never happened. There is a subplot about what is apparently the mate of the Great White from the original Jaws tracking down the members of the Brody family no matter where they are, because it is a Psychic Revenge Shark, which someone thought was more realistic than the original idea, a voodoo zombie shark.

I say it is a subplot because most of the movie is taken up by the widow Brody (Lorraine Gary, probably regretting being lured out of retirement) falling under the spell of fast (and constantly) talking pilot Hoagie (Michael Caine, giving me lots of opportunities to trot out my horrible Caine impersonation). This is apparently an attempt to distract us from the fact that this movie is ripping off Orca for its main plot.

The elder Brody son is now an oceanographer studying new ways to blow up hermit crabs, so Mom gets to have a lot of hysterical scenes demanding he toss away years of expensive college to become a desert hobo or something. Did I mention the younger son got eaten by the psychic revenge shark at the opening of the movie? That was when we still thought it was a Jaws movie.

The script does stuff that would get any normal writer fired and his typewriter confiscated. Maybe that did actually happen at some point, because reportedly Mario van Peebles wrote his own lines and came up with his own semi-Jamaican accent, mon. Somebody suddenly remembers this is a shark movie and Mom goes out to sea to face it alone. Hoagie, son and Mario-mon fly out to find her, and Hoagie lands his plane nearby, apparently forgetting it is not a sea plane. Mario gets chomped on by the shark, to the cheers of all present. Then at the end it is revealed he is still alive, embittering us all for life, mon.

I haven’t even gotten to the roaring shark, the incredibly bad parenting, or the fact that the widow Brody’s hydrophobia has a whiplash-causingly rapid, complete and utter turnaround under the spell of Hoagie. If you absolutely must know more, I direct you to the Master of All That Is Bad Ken Begg, and his typically exhaustive write-up. I don’t have the strength anymore.

Why am I so exhausted? Because after Jaws: The Revenge, it was time to fix dinner, so Dave decided we should watch the remainder of Strange Beings while we did this, “Just so we can say we got through it.” This delighted Annie, and horrified me, as Fry’s vampiric tones once again muttered through the speakers. This is, admittedly, the only way I found out about the interrupted secret of the universe. But at what cost?

After not having the promised Secret of the Universe given to us (as promised), it seemed somehow logical that next we should watch Petey Wheatstraw, The Devil’s Son-In-Law.

You might recall at the last Crapfest, we marched joyfully into Rudy Ray Moore’s Avenging Disco Godfather, only to find ourselves in the grip of a message movie. We were hoping for something more classically Rudy Ray n Petey Wheatstraw, and in a lot of ways, we got it.

Watching a Rudy Ray Moore movie is a whole lot like tripping and falling through the looking-glass: you find yourself in a strange alternate dimension where Rudy Ray Moore is the sexiest man alive (the man does pack a ton of charisma, if not a lot of acting talent), and the normal standards of storytelling and filmmaking do not hold. Petey Wheatstraw is pretty ambitious for a Rudy Ray movie, and if you miss the raw fun of the Dolemite movies, you still have to give the man some props.

Firstly, you have a woman giving birth to a watermelon (watermelons are a continuing motif), then a baby who appears to be a five year-old boy. Said boy kicks the doctor’s ass and is given the name “Petey Wheatstraw”. The devil’s son-in-law part comes later.

After rigorous kung fu training (involving watermelons), Petey grows up to be Rudy Ray Moore, doing Rudy Ray Moore’s stage act.  This will put him up against the villainous vaudevillians Leroy and Skillet (played by Leroy and Skillet), who, to prevent competition with their new nightclub, have Petey and a whole bunch of other people machine-gunned at a funeral.

Going to remind you here, this is a comedy.

This leads to the Devil offering Petey a deal. If he’ll marry the Devil’s daughter and give Lucifer a grandson, Petey will be returned to Earth and given a shot at revenge. The Devil’s a pretty magnanimous kind of guy, and raises everyone at the funeral from the dead – except the kid in the coffin. So Petey wrecks Leroy and Skillet’s opening night – quite literally, using a magic cane the Devil has given him – so, hey, great movie! Glad I watched i—

Oh, wait, it’s not over yet. Petey spends the rest of the movie performing miracles with his magic cane, to the irritation of the Devil and his daughter. He is also trying to figure out a way to trick the devil and get out of his upcoming nuptials. My favorite part of his schemes is that they involve fooling the Devil just long enough to get out of town, because the Devil seemingly has very limited jurisdiction.

So you can see that Petey Wheatstraw has a good deal more scope than the Dolemite movies, if not the budget to fully realize it. The final scenes where the Devil’s minions, all leotards and dimestore capes and heavy face makeup, keep popping out from various doors, alleyways and other inconvenient places to face down Petey in simply-choreographed kung fu fights, are pretty wonderful in their low-rent let’s-make-this-movie way.

I also always like the way Moore wasn’t shy about slipping his friends’ acts into his flicks. Dammit, I want to see a Leroy and Skillet movie.

Rick was also fascinated by Leroy and Skillet – or, as they seemed to be known in their non-cinematic endeavors, Skillet and Leroy – and sent me the cover to one of their party records:

Finally, it was my turn. I had been kind of nervous, watching the clock get later, and later, that I would get squeezed out, but no, it was early enough – if just barely – for me to put in The Raid: Redemption.

I generally bring the kung fu films, you see. So when I had a chance to parlay that into a Crapfest screening – well. I did it. Don’t think anybody regretted it; we discussed it animatedly in video game terms. “Man, I hope he finds a save point soon.” “Oh, crap! Mini-bosses!”

I’ve already gone on about The Raid, but here’s that preview one more time:

Looking forward to that sequel, let me tell you.

Then we gathered up our traps, and prepared to leave. What was on TV, once we turned off the DVD player? Why, look, it’s Batman and Robin. It’s like they knew.

This led to a discussion of “Why not Batman and Robin? It’s crap!” The answer to that may be as simple as Dave’s “I don’t know if I could face that again.” But now Rick has something new to whinge on about, and balance is maintained in the universe.

7 Comments

  1. Tim Lehnerer once made me watch an imported video named Chinese Gods, which turned out to be only slightly less of an interminable slog than Paint Your Wagon. I feel your pain, and I make note to never see Strange Beings even as a mutually assured destruction entry!

  2. “Whinge”? What are you, a limey?

    • Oi’m still doing me Michael Caine imitation, guv.

  3. Well written, Freeman. You left no crap un-turned. So, when we doing this again?

    • Hey, I got Saturday off.

      • And that sound you hear is Dave barricading his door, Night of the Living Dead-style.

  4. […] but I am saving that in retribution for Strange Beings, which was inflicted on me at the last official Crapfest. No, I went for something Rick had once expressed interest in, even though he will deny it: the […]


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